Bishop of Columbus, Ohio (1880-1899)
John A. Watterson was born in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, on May 27, 1844. He was the sixth of eleven children of John S. and Sarah McAfee Watterson. The Watterson family came to America from the Isle of Mann in 1762. Originally Episcopalians, John’s grandfather, also named John, was an orphan raised by a Catholic family named Eck in York County, Pennsylvania.
Young John received his education at Sts. Simon & Jude School in Blairsville. Upon the recommendation of his pastor, John was sent to Saint Vincent, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. At the age of 17, he entered Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmittsburg, Maryland, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood at Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, on August 9, 1868.
Soon after his ordination, Fr. Watterson accepted a position as a professor of moral theology and sacred scripture at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary. In 1877 Fr. Watterson became vice president of the college, and president in 1879. In June of that year, the young president received his doctor of divinity degree from Georgetown College in Washington, D.C.
In March, 1880, it was announced that Fr. Watterson was appointed Second Bishop of Columbus. He was consecrated August 8, 1880, at St. Joseph Cathedral by the Right Reverend William H. Elder, Archbishop of Cincinnati.
Bishop Watterson worked to increase the priesthood in his new diocese to share in the work of the Diocese. During his episcopate, St. Anthony and Mt. Carmel hospitals were founded, as were the college and seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus. Many new missions and parishes were established during this time, and parish schools especially increased in number as they were established wherever possible (Bishop Watterson was a particularly strong advocate of Catholic schooling).
Bishop Watterson especially loved confirming young people and talking with little children, teaching them and instilling in them the truths he knew would make them good citizens and saints in the hereafter. He was also a strong believer in temperance. No saloon owner was allowed to be an officer in any Catholic organization in the Diocese, and he made all those he confirmed promise not to drink until they were 21.
Bishop Watterson died unexpectedly April 17, 1899. He is buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Columbus, in the priests’ circle.